Still feeling a bit on the bloated side after the holidays? Pants a little tighter than they were?
Of fad diets that have stood the test of time, the cabbage-soup diet is among those hanging in there the longest – since the 1950s, according to diet.com, a comprehensive site devoted to healthful weight loss, exercise and light cooking.
The name of the diet has changed over the years, but the instructions stay the same.
The idea is simply, for one week, to keep yourself full of a very low-calorie, high- fiber, mixed-vegetable soup made with cabbage, while eating certain combinations of other food groups on each of the seven days.
Recipes for the cabbage soup vary, but none contains added fat or starch.
Each day of the diet, certain other foods may be consumed: usually any low-calorie fruits and vegetables you like and, on some days, large quantities of potassium-rich foods or protein.
The high-fiber intake paired with a high-moisture intake and the diuretic properties of cabbage are said to affect the kidneys and digestive system, scouring the body of solid and liquid waste.
The diet appears to work more as a cleanser that incidentally rids your body of some weight and lots of water, and not as a long-term weight-loss plan.
As a weight-control system, it fails miserably. Critics of the diet, including the American Heart Association and other medical institutions with which it has been erroneously linked, claim it is so low-calorie and restrictive of nutrients that it is unhealthy.
It is practiced for a limited time and includes no directions for lifestyle or dietary changes. Most of the weight lost is water and comes back when the plan ends.
On the upside, unlike most cleansing fasts, most food groups are represented over the course of the one-week plan, even carbs. Only fat is kept consistently low.
A potato with butter contributes starch and a little fat on day two, while up to eight bananas and eight glasses of skim milk reintroduce protein and lots of carbs on day four. On days five and six, you can eat more than a pound of meat, as long as it's lean.
Only day three is extremely restrictive concerning both carbs and protein.
Who could say that eating only big bowls of soup with high-antioxidant leafy greens, tomatoes and carrots for one day is a bad thing?
There are drawbacks.
One negative of the diet is the low amount of protein during the first three days.
Approach this with the same sense you would use if looking at a juice fast or another cleanse that limits protein for a substantial time.
Cabbage is a natural diuretic, which is fine to a point, but too much water elimination can remove enough potassium from your body to cause a deficiency – hence the gorge on high-potassium bananas on day four and tomatoes on day five.
Other vitamins and minerals also are flushed away with water, but the constant intake of a variety of fruits and vegetables combats this.
The original recipe for the cabbage soup contains one or two packages of onion-soup mix, which is high in sodium. If desired, cut it out and season the soup with your own mix of salt and seasoning.
The cabbage soup diet
Drink at least eight cups of water each day. Each day, eat as much cabbage soup as you wish, always at least one to two bowls.
Use one of the recipes provided or make up your own, with some variety of cabbage and a selection of fresh, non-starchy vegetables, fat-free stock and herbs and seasonings of your choice.
This diet is to be practiced for one week only, as a cleanse, and is not a long-term solution to weight loss.
Day 1: You may eat any fresh fruits except bananas.
Day 2: You may eat as many low-calorie vegetables as you like, raw or cooked, plus one baked potato with a little butter. Do not eat starchy vegetables such as dry beans, grain or corn.
No salad dressing or dip other than a squirt of lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt and seasonings of your choice.
Day 3: Any fresh fruits and vegetables, but no potatoes, starchy vegetables such as dry beans, grain, corn or bananas.
Day 4: You may eat as many as eight bananas (eat at least three) and drink as many as eight glasses of skim milk, but no other vegetables or fruit except the soup.
Day 5: Enjoy up to 20 ounces of lean meat such as lean beef or uncured pork, skinless chicken or seafood. You can have up to six raw tomatoes.
Day 6: You may eat as much lean protein as you like, as listed above, and any low-calorie vegetables, raw or cooked. No starchy veggies or bananas.
Day 7: Enjoy up to two cups of cooked brown rice, any low-calorie vegetables, raw or cooked, and unsweetened fruit juice.
This recipe makes a big pot, enough for one person to eat all week.
1 head cabbage, shredded or chopped
2 large onions, chopped
16 to 28 ounces canned tomatoes, chopped
2 green peppers
4 stalks celery
6 carrots, sliced
1/2 pound green beans, sliced on diagonal
1 or 2 packages Lipton onion-soup mix, or any dry onion-soup mix (optional)
Any fresh herb(s) of your choice, chopped
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (optional)
Put the cabbage, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, celery, carrots and green beans in a big pot and cover with water.
Bring to a boil, stir in the soup mix (if desired) and boil gently for 10 minutes. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until all the vegetables are soft, another 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the black pepper and chopped herbs (saving some for garnish).